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Bibb County’s, L H Thompson increases sales, employees

The Great Recession forced some manufacturers to close and others to downsize. Some are still hanging on by threads.

“We have had a good bit of increase,” said Margaret “Marge” Thomson, CEO of L.H. Thomson Co. on Industrial Boulevard in south Bibb County. “We’ve gone from about 70-75 (employees) to 100 in a year to a year and a half. ... None of our product lines have really suffered a lot during this downturn.”

In the early 1980s, Thomson and her husband, Ronnie Thomson, formed the business, which manufactures machined parts for the commercial airline industry. In the mid-1990s, the company expanded to create its own brand of patented bicycle components using its expertise in aerospace design and manufacturing.

Thomson has expanded its presence in the biking industry, especially outside the United States, and its products can be found in more than 30 countries.

David Parret, Thomson’s marketing manager, said he “remains surprised” that the company increased sales in the bike business during the recession.

“It doesn’t completely make sense,” Parret said. “Cycling as a hobby around the world hasn’t been affected (as much) ... it’s just been steady.

“I think what it is, you’ve got countries creating larger middle classes who will want to cycle ... and maybe instead of a $50 commuter bike to get to work, now they are using cycling as a recreation,” he said. “So we are certainly seeing growth in the international market and slow growth in the U.S.”

The company has seen a lot of growth in the triangle of Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, especially off-road cycling,” Parret said. In addition, orders are increasing to Hong Kong, Taiwan and China.

“As more people are becoming better off economically, the rising tide really is lifting this boat as well as others,” he said.

The company sells parts to distribution companies that then supply bike shops, and it sells to original equipment owners who put the equipment on the bicycles as original equipment, he said. It does not do any direct sales to bike owners.

It has eight distribution facilities -- the closest one is in Lexington, S.C. and the largest one is in Bloomington, Minn.

After leading the company for more than 25 years, Ronnie Thomson died in 2008, and Marge Thomson took over as CEO with their son, Brian Thomson, as president.

The company recently filed the paperwork to incorporate the bicycle side of the business as Thomson Bike Products Inc. to separate the functions of the company as recommended by their accountant, she said.

“We’re doing some restructuring and getting a larger management team,” Marge Thomson said. “My son and I have been running the business, and it’s something we were on the verge of doing before (Ronnie Thomson) passed away. It took a couple of years to get our feet wet -- to get it going again.”

The aerospace side of the company is about 65 percent of its business, “but we have come out with some new products on the biking side, so we expect that side will grow a little more,” she said.

This summer the company announced it would -- for the first time -- distribute parts not made at the Georgia plant. It will be offering carbon fiber, aluminum and titanium handle bars.

“All of our customers have always wanted us to get into other products, and we’ve actually developed a handlebar that we are not making here,” Thomson said. “We are actually making it in Taiwan because this country just doesn’t have the expertise in the carbon fiber area in order to get these made.”

The company in Taiwan already had some of the equipment, and L.H. Thomson is “using our expertise, our specialty, and our know-how to get a better handle bar out there than what’s on the market now,” she said.

Although Thomson won’t be ready to ship the new handle bars until the end of October, it already has about 4,500 orders. The company has plans for other new bike products next year that it will make.

L.H. Thomson is not only seeing increases in the biking business, but also in the commercial airline parts business.

“Boeing aircraft orders are up,” Thomson said. “They are just trying to increase the number of planes they manufacture every day.”

Workload required more workers

The increase in sales has led the company to add workers.

“We used to work more overtime hours, and we tried to cut back on that so we had to hire more people,” Thomson said. “Mainly because we need more people -- some of our areas we were running almost 24 hours a day. Just to cover all our bases, we actually needed more bodies here.”

L.H. Thomson runs two shifts, and workers usually work eight to 10 hours a day depending on the workload, she said.

“We’ve also started a weekend and weekend night shift that we didn’t have for a long time,” she said. “That’s where a lot of our additional people went. To get the work out that we needed to get out, we needed to run the machines longer.”

One avenue the company used to find some of the workers it needed was through the Macon-Bibb County Office of Workforce Development.

The work force office held an invitation-only industry sector job fair in February this year, and L.H. Thomson participated, said Sheknita Davis, Workforce Development program manager.

All the job candidates were prescreened and were required to participate in a number of workshops on résumés, interviewing and professional dress, Davis said.

“(Thomson) selected two candidates from (the job fair), and then we developed a relationship and helped them to identify some other potential candidates for on-the-job training,” she said.

If a job candidate doesn’t have all the skills or qualifications that an employer is looking for, but the employer is willing to train that person, then the Workforce Development office can help reimburse the company for up to 75 percent of their salary depending on the size of the company, Davis said.

The funds for those salaries comes from U.S. Department of Labor, Employment & Training Administration through the U.S. Workforce Investment Act, said Kathy Thompson, executive director of the work force office.

“Because of the size of L.H. Thomson, we were able to reimburse them 75 percent of the (employee’s) salary,” Davis said. “The training period depends on the person’s skills -- the average training period is 12-to-16 weeks. ... These are not low-wage jobs, these are middle-wage jobs.”

Thomson was able to hire nine workers through the on-the-job training program, she said.

“It definitely helps a dislocated worker, a person who may have been laid off from another job and may have some transferable skills,” she said. “They are actually full-time employees of L.H. Thomson, and we just reimburse them a percentage of that employee’s salary.”

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Find out how Macon Economic Development Commission Works for Warehousing & DistributionShared ServicesAerospaceAdvanced ManufacturingAutomotive and Food Processing


Find out how Macon Economic Development Commission Works for Warehousing & Distribution, Shared Services, Aerospace, Advanced Manufacturing, Automotive and Food Processing